Thailand | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Sat, 18 Nov 2017 00:01:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9 https://deathstar-650a.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-moon_logo_M-32x32.jpg Thailand | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com 32 32 125073523 Why Expats Should Learn Thai https://moon.com/2016/09/why-expats-should-learn-thai/ https://moon.com/2016/09/why-expats-should-learn-thai/#respond Mon, 12 Sep 2016 22:38:00 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37793 If you're going to be in Thailand for anything longer than a vacation, you'll find that learning a little bit of the language will help you tremendously in every aspect of your everyday life.

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Learn to speak Thai. Don’t be discouraged by people who tell you that Thai is an impossible language to learn or that you don’t need to speak Thai to live in Thailand. You certainly don’t need to be fluent, and you can survive here without much Thai at all if you happen to live in a part of the country where there are lots of foreigners or have a spouse or partner who’s Thai; plenty of expats have been here for years and can only say a few words.

But if you are going to be in Thailand for anything longer than a vacation, you’ll find that learning a little bit of the language will help you tremendously in every aspect of your everyday life. You will have a much easier time meeting people and making friends in your community, and if you are working here, you will earn the respect of your Thai colleagues.

Thai people are usually very forgiving of your mistakes and very encouraging of foreigners’ efforts to learn their language.The Thai language isn’t as difficult as some people believe. It is a tonal language, which is a challenge for most native English speakers, since English doesn’t use tones to convey meaning, and initially English speakers often can’t even hear the difference between a rising tone, a falling tone, a high tone, and a low tone. But training yourself to hear the tones and being able to mimic them actually happens quickly when you learn them in a structured environment.

A display of Thai newspapers.

Learning the Thai language is much more important if you live in a rural area. Photo © nist6dh, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

The other challenge is the writing system. Not only is Thai written in an entirely foreign script, it has 44 consonants and 15 vowels, which only sounds off-putting until you realize that many of those consonants make the same sounds. One of the reasons there are different ways to write a “d” sound is that each different written form, when combined with vowels and tone marks, indicates a different tone.

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about conjugating verbs or using articles. And Thai people are usually very forgiving of your mistakes and very encouraging of foreigners’ efforts to learn their language.

How much Thai do you need to speak? If you are living in Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, or another area that has a lot of international visitors, you’ll find that you don’t need much Thai to get by on a daily basis. Once you have mastered a few hundred words of vocabulary, you’ll find that you are able to have basic conversations. You won’t understand everything being said to you, but at least you’ll be able to chat and make small talk.

If you’re moving out into more rural areas of Thailand, or smaller cities where foreigners don’t typically travel, you’ll really need to speak Thai with a level of fluency that will ensure not only that you can chat with your neighbors and colleagues, but that you can obtain the things you need and are able to communicate in an emergency. Almost every major city has Thai language courses available, and a couple of months of part-time study will go a long way.

15 Essential Thai Words and Phrases for Travelers

  • sawadee ka/kap—hello, goodbye
  • kap kun ka/kap—thank you
  • saibai dee mai?—How are you?
  • mai pen rai—no problem; no worries
  • saibai—good; fine; happy; relaxed; comfortable
  • mai put passa Thai—I don’t speak Thai.
  • mai khao jai—I don’t understand.
  • pai…—(I want to) go to…
  • tao rai?—How much? How many?
  • mai ow—I don’t want that (thing).
  • mai dai—I can’t/won’t do that (action).
  • mai chai—no
  • gin khao—to eat (very informal but very widely used in colloquial conversation)
  • arroy—delicious
  • soi—side street

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad Thailand.

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Diving Thailand’s Coasts https://moon.com/2016/08/diving-thailands-coasts/ https://moon.com/2016/08/diving-thailands-coasts/#respond Wed, 24 Aug 2016 12:30:27 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=40983 The waters of Thailand offer an amazing diversity of marine life and dive sites from beginner to advanced, some considered among the best in the world.

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The waters surrounding the Andaman coast and the Samui Archipelago offer an amazing diversity of marine life and dive sites from beginner to advanced, some considered among the best in the world. Along Thailand’s two coasts, hundreds of dive shops offer courses, equipment rental, day trips, and live-aboards. If you’re planning on diving in the region, don’t worry too much about where you are staying relative to the areas where you want to dive; most diving shops (especially in Phuket) offer dives to all of the most popular sites in the region.

Richelieu Rock is known to attract giant, gentle whale sharks.

Richelieu Rock is known to attract giant, gentle whale sharks. Photo © Piboon Srimak/123rf.

Diving in Phuket

  • Ko Racha Noi is a popular place to visit on a day trip and has a nice mix of both colorful coral and challenging, rocky terrain.
  • Another very popular destination is Shark Point, about 32 kilometers (20 mi) east of Chalong Bay. There are three rock outcroppings that attract sharks, including leopard sharks.
  • Just under one kilometer (0.6 mi) away from Shark Point is Anemone Reef, with lots of anemone, coral, and plenty of colorful small fish.
  • If you’re interested in wreck diving, close by is King Cruiser Wreck, a sunken car ferry in Phang Nga Bay. This site is appropriate for most divers and attracts lots of fish.

Diving the Andaman Coast

  • The waters surrounding Ko Phi Phi offer both nice diving and excellent snorkeling. The biggest attraction here is the colorful coral and vibrant fish. Most of the dives are not difficult, but divers looking for more of a challenge can check out the wall diving at Ao Nui.
  • South of Ko Lanta are some excellent (and convenient) dive sites. The Mu Ko Lanta National Park is a group of 15 small islands, many with good diving in surrounding areas. You’ll find lots of rocky terrain attracting colorful fish, some underwater caves to explore, and beautiful coral. The Ko Kradan Wreck is now an artificial reef.
  • The Ko Surin islands are part of the Mu Ko Surin National Park and are best known for the excellent coral surrounding them. The biggest draw is Richelieu Rock, a rock pinnacle jutting out of the ocean that’s known to attract giant, gentle whale sharks. These islands are accessible by live-aboard trips from Phuket, but if you’re staying in Khao Lak, you can visit on a day trip.
  • The Similan Islands are nine granite islands which make up the Mu Ko Similan National Park and are considered by most to offer the best diving in Thailand and some of the best diving in the world. Here you’ll find plenty of colorful reefs and plankton blooms attracting sharks, rays, and plenty of tropical fish. Other parts of the island grouping are more rugged, with boulder formations offering more adventurous diving. There are also great night-diving spots where you’ll see squid, crustaceans, and other creatures. These islands can be visited on day trips from Phuket and Khao Lak, but many people choose multiday live-aboards.

Diving Ko Samui and the Samui Archipelago

  • Sail Rock between Ko Tao and Ko Pha-Ngan is the region’s most popular dive spot and is appropriate for all levels of divers. The pinnacle, which towers about nine meters (10 yd) above the surface, is a magnet for fish, so there’s plenty of colorful marinelife to be spotted. The swim-through chimney, a cavernous tunnel through the pinnacle, is a must-do for anyone visiting Sail Rock.
  • Just under 10 kilometers (6 mi) northwest of Ko Tao is Chumphon Pinnacle, a very popular granite pinnacle that does not break the surface. The base is covered with colorful anemones and attracts plenty of large and small fish. Large whale sharks are often spotted here, as are leopard sharks.
  • Southeast of Ko Tao is Shark Rocks, a grouping of rocks surrounded by colorful coral and anemones. Snappers, rays, and angelfish congregate in the rocks and, as you might suspect from the name, so do sharks.
  • Just north of Ko Pha-Ngan (connected by a strip of sand at low tide) is Ko Ma, which has some vibrant and healthy hard and soft coral as well as lots of vivid marinelife. Given its proximity to the main island and its suitability for divers of all levels, this is often where beginning divers are taken when they are getting certified.
  • The three interconnected islands of Ko Nang Yuan also offer some nice snorkeling and diving opportunities. The coral reef attracts plenty of smaller fish and is a nice place for beginning divers and for snorkelers. Nang Yuan Pinnacle, a small granite pinnacle below the surface, attracts larger fish that have come to feed.

Thailand Dive Shops, Courses, and Certification

In Thailand most diving instruction courses offer PADI open-water diver certification. These courses take 3-4 days, at the end of which you’ll be certified to dive all over the world. You’ll spend time in the classroom first learning about safety and dive theory, take your first dive in a swimming pool, and advance to supervised open-water dives. Expect to pay 10,000-15,000 baht for the full course, including equipment and dives. If you can’t imagine wasting hours inside a classroom while you’re on vacation, and assuming there is a PADI training center where you live, you can do the classroom and pool-diving components of your training at home and bring your referral paperwork with you to Thailand, where you’ll be able to complete the open-water portion of the certification.

Certified divers looking to advance their skills can also take dive master courses, become certified diving instructors, and arrange training internships at some of the larger training centers. These programs are at least two weeks long and cost 30,000-75,000 baht.

There are many dive shops in the area, especially on Ko Tao, which has dozens. Safety records across Thailand’s diving industry are good, but make sure to inspect equipment and talk to the instructors and dive masters you’ll be with before signing up to make sure you’re comfortable with them. Also ask about environmental awareness. PADI divers should follow a strict no-hands rule, but some dive shops have been known to be somewhat lax about it (touching or even brushing up against coral can damage it).

On Ko Tao, especially, many dive shops also have small guesthouses, and you’ll get a discounted rate (sometimes just a few hundred baht) if you’re taking lessons or going out on dives with them. Accommodations run the gamut from basic and clean to luxurious. You’ll be surrounded by fellow divers if you choose to stay in one of these guesthouses.

There are also plenty of dive shops on Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan that offer diving trips and equipment. You can also take 3-4-day PADI diving certification courses at shops on the islands. Live-aboards tend to be less popular in this part of the country; instead, most diving is done on day trips or multiday trips where divers sleep in basic accommodations on one of the islands in Ang Thong National Marine Park.

Travel map of the Phuket and Ko Samui region of Thailand

Travel map of the Phuket and Ko Samui region of Thailand


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

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What to Wear in Thailand https://moon.com/2016/08/what-to-wear-thailand/ https://moon.com/2016/08/what-to-wear-thailand/#respond Thu, 18 Aug 2016 10:13:57 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=37791 Whether you're on vacation, business, or house-hunting for a move abroad, here's everything you need to know about what to wear in Thailand.

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Thailand’s climate is hot and tropical (think Miami in August), so bear that in mind as you pack for your trip. Whether you’re seeing the sights, exploring neighborhoods, or house hunting for a move abroad, bring clothes that are loose, lightweight, and breathable.

A woman walks down Khao San Street in Bangkok.

Bring clothes that are loose, lightweight, and breathable, and consider a wide hat to protect from the sun. Photo © loganban/123rf.

Tank tops and shorts are tempting, but in addition to looking a little too casual, they don’t offer enough protection from the sun.Tank tops and shorts are tempting, but in addition to looking a little too casual, they don’t offer enough protection from the sun. Covering up your skin, so long as you do so with loose, light fabrics, can actually keep you cooler in the long run. If you’ll be spending a lot of time walking around outdoors, take a clue from the Thais who work outside on a daily basis, and consider bringing or picking up a lightweight broad-brimmed hat. If you are walking around a lot in the heat, your feet will sweat and swell, and you are far more likely to have blisters, so comfortable shoes are essential.

Laundry services are available at all levels of accommodations, from guesthouses to five-star hotels, so unless you’ll be moving around a lot, three or four changes of clothing should be sufficient for your trip. But bring extra underwear, as you’ll most likely be showering more than once a day.

In major cities in Thailand, people generally dress nicely, and even those just running errands or hanging out at the mall on a Saturday will seldom be seen looking too sloppy or unkempt (if you walk around most residential areas in the evening, you’ll see folks hanging around or running to the store in their pajamas, but that’s a different story).

Piles of straw hats at Damnoen Saduak floating market, Thailand.

Piles of straw hats for sale at Damnoen Saduak floating market, Thailand. Photo © xiquinhosilva, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

People will also generally make assumptions about you based on the way you’re dressed, so unless you want to be treated like a backpacking tourist when you’re house hunting or looking at schools for your kids, ditch the flip-flops and ratty cargo shorts. Like most other places in the world, you’ll almost always be treated better if you’re dressed well. It almost goes without saying that any meetings with government officials, even if you’re just stopping into the immigration office to extend your tourist visa, will go more smoothly if you are dressed more formally. For men, khakis and polo shirts are acceptable if you’re just walking around, or even for casual meetings with real estate agents. Women have more options but you should avoid looking like you’re going to the beach. If you are going to the beach, or exploring Thailand’s beaches as possible places to move, don’t worry about the flip flops or shorts; those are fine in beach areas.

Professional Dress in Thailand

If you’re traveling to Thailand for meetings with other professionals or you’ll be networking, or interviewing for jobs, you’ll most likely be expected to dress in business attire.

For men this really depends on your line of work. For some industries, this means suits, ties, and dress shoes, even though the thermometer could be in the 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) while you’re in town. Depending on the types of meetings you’ll be having and the people you’ll be meeting with, you may be able to get away with not wearing a tie, and you can even take your jacket off quickly after you’ve arrived, but you should gauge the level of formality carefully and err on the side of being overdressed. Some professionals, such as teachers, are a little more casual, but you’ll still be expected to wear a button-down shirt and long pants.

Women have a little more leeway in that they don’t absolutely have to wear business suits, but you will still be expected to wear professional-looking clothing (i.e., a button-down blouse and skirt or slacks, or a dress) if you are in business meetings or interviewing. Although many professional women do wear pantyhose in Thailand, it is not considered taboo to skip them. Women can also get away with open-toed shoes and even sandals in all but the highest positions or the most formal offices. In the past, women in Thailand did not wear sleeveless tops in professional environments, but this isn’t true anymore, though spaghetti straps, halter tops, and tube tops are still a no-no. Bring a light cardigan with you in case you are meeting with more formal people, as well as to protect you from icy-cold air-conditioning.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad Thailand.

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Best Beaches of Phuket and Ko Samui https://moon.com/2016/08/best-beaches-phuket-ko-samui/ https://moon.com/2016/08/best-beaches-phuket-ko-samui/#respond Wed, 03 Aug 2016 12:26:55 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=40980 Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to relax under a palm tree or a chance to lie out all day and party all night, you’ll find it on Samui and Phuket.

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Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to relax under a palm tree or a chance to lie out all day and party all night, you’ll find it on Samui and Phuket.

Patong Beach, Thailand.

Patong Beach has the most vibrant nightlife scene on the island of Phuket. Photo © Viacheslav Khelnitskiy/123rf.

Best Beaches of Phuket

  • Kata Beach: One of Phuket’s most popular beaches is a great place for families because it’s got something for everyone and it’s also one of the prettiest beaches on the island. You’ll find a wide variety of places to stay on Kata Beach, from resorts with kids’ clubs to inexpensive guesthouses. And if you want to grab a meal, or just explore the area, you can do almost everything on foot, as the village, which connects to neighboring Karon Village, is just behind the beach. There’s no intense partying going on here, but if you want to grab a drink and listen to some music after the kids are asleep, you’ll find plenty of places to do so.
  • Surin Beach: The small, curved beach on northwest Phuket, on the Andaman Sea, is another great choice for families. It’s surrounded by pine trees and hotels, with none of the party scene of the island’s southern beaches.
  • Patong Beach: It’s not just the long, wide beach, soft sand, and warm water that make Patong a great choice for those who want to party; it also has the most vibrant nightlife scene on the island of Phuket. Scores of bars and discos are usually filled with visitors and locals ’til all hours of the night.
Ton Sai Bay along Thailand's Andaman Coast.

Ton Sai Bay along Thailand’s Andaman Coast. Photo © chriss73/1234rf/

Best Beaches along the Andaman Coast

  • West Rai Le Beach: Surrounded by limestone cliffs, this small stretch of beach in Krabi on the Andaman coast has some of the best scenery in the country. Kayak rental on the beach, plenty of rock-climbing routes, and easy day trips to snorkeling spots make West Rai Le a great choice if you’re looking for some adventure, too.
  • Ton Sai Bay: Crystal-clear blue waters surrounded by limestone mountains characterize this bay on Ko Phi Phi, one of Thailand’s most popular small islands. The breathtaking scenery and inexpensive bungalows make Ton Sai Bay a popular spot.
Waves wash onto Chaweng Beach, Ko Samui.

Chaweng Beach, Ko Samui. Photo © pretoperola/123rf.

Best Beaches in Ko Samui and the Samui Archipelago

  • Bo Phut Beach: This beach is home to Samui’s popular Fisherman’s Village and offers a little bit of everything—a pretty beach, good accommodations, and plenty of places to eat, drink, and shop.
  • Chaweng: Samui’s most popular beach attracts the crowds. The wide, pretty beach has lots of hotels and restaurants right on the water, and the nightlife is probably the best on the island.
  • Hat Rin Beach: This beach, on the erstwhile idyllic Ko Pha-Ngan, is home to the infamous drug- and drink-fueled full-moon parties that seem to be getting more and more popular every year.
Travel map of Phuket, Thailand

Phuket


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

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Planning Your Time on Thailand’s Andaman Coast https://moon.com/2016/07/planning-your-time-thailands-andaman-coast/ https://moon.com/2016/07/planning-your-time-thailands-andaman-coast/#respond Sat, 09 Jul 2016 12:42:48 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=40989 How you plan your time on the Andaman Coast depends mostly on what you want to get out of your vacation. Here's a look at where to base yourself and plan for diving, island-hopping, or good ol' fashioned beach bumming.

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If paradise were a place on earth, it would be somewhere on the Andaman coast of Thailand. The region is astoundingly beautiful—bright, clear, warm water teeming with wildlife from tropical fish to magnificent coral, even occasional sea cows and reef sharks (the kind that don’t eat people). The coast and islands have sandy beaches, and there are hundreds of small islands and limestone rock formations rising up out of the ocean. Inland, there are tropical rainforests, mangrove swamps, mountains, and waterfalls. If it’s an active vacation you’re looking for, there are abundant opportunities to snorkel, dive, sea kayak, or hike, especially in the numerous national parks.

Though many travelers go to one spot on the Andaman and plant themselves there for the duration, if you want to both indulge and explore, it’s an easy place to be a little more adventurous.But it’s not just the physical beauty and activities that make the Andaman coast such a great traveling experience. The region still offers a chance to glimpse rural and small-city life in Thailand. While Phuket has attracted residents from all over the world as well as transplants from Bangkok and other parts of the country, and largely feels like a commercialized tourist destination, if you travel north to Phang Nga Province, you’ll find small fishing villages along the coast where fishing families can often be found clearing nets at the end of the day or setting out squid to dry in the sun. To the south, in Satun, you’ll find a largely Muslim population and a fascinating blend of Islam and Buddhism evidenced in the houses of worship and the dress of the local people.

Rai Le beach in Krabi, Thailand.

Rai Le beach in Krabi, Thailand. Photo © efired/123rf.

In the past few decades, Phuket has really blossomed into a world-class destination for vacationers from all over the world, with all of the pros and cons that go with it. But traveling either north to Phang Nga or south to Krabi and Trang, things slow down again, although even in Trang there are more and more bungalows, resorts, and hotels for visitors being built every year. Though many travelers go to one spot on the Andaman and plant themselves there for the duration, if you want to both indulge and explore, it’s an easy place to be a little more adventurous. Public and private buses can take you from Phuket or Krabi either north or south along the coast, and if you rent a car, you’ll find the highway system exceptionally well maintained and generally navigable, even if you can’t read a word of Thai.

The Andaman coast is also perfect for island-hopping, and the best way to do that is by boat. There are plenty of ferries, speedboats, and longtails to take you from island to island and beach to beach. You can fly into Phuket, spend a few days on one of the nearby beaches, then take a boat to Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, or one of the other numerous islands in Phang Nga Bay, or hit 3-4 islands in one trip; there are hundreds of islands in the region to choose from. Some, such as Phi Phi, are arguably overpopulated with travelers and resorts. But there are still some beautiful islands you can stay on that feel less exploited by tourism and kinder to the natural surroundings.

Prices are still amazingly reasonable considering the physical landscape. Even in the most coveted areas, you’ll be able to find simple accommodations, sometimes right on the beach, for less than US$40 per night, even cheaper the farther away from Phuket you are. Of course, if you’re looking for five-star luxury, you’ll be able to find that, too. Some of the best resorts in the world have Andaman coast addresses.

Travel map of Phang Nga Province, Thailand

Phang Nga Province

Travel map of Trang and Satun Provinces, Thailand

Trang and Satun Provinces

Planning Your Time on the Andaman Coast

How you plan your time depends mostly on what you want to get out of your vacation. If you’re hoping to pick a beach on the Andaman coast, grab a chair, and sit and relax for the duration of your time in Thailand, you won’t need to do much planning at all.

If you do choose to explore some of the region’s surrounding islands, remember that getting from one place to another can often take a few hours and involve taking land transportation to a pier and then a sometimes-long boat ride, especially if you are relying on public transportation. Many tour operators offer day trips to surrounding islands from Krabi or Phuket, and these can be an excellent way to see many different places at once, although you won’t have any control over the schedule or itinerary.

James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay.

James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay. Photo © Ihar Balaikin/123rf.

If you really want to explore each island (or stay overnight), your best bet is to take one of the large ferries from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, or Krabi and then use the smaller longtail boats to take you to other islands in the vicinity. Some people prefer to base themselves on one of the more built-up islands (Ko Lanta or Ko Phi Phi) and explore the surrounding islands on day trips, but it’s just as easy to sleep on different islands or even camp at one of the island national parks. If you plan on island-hopping, make sure to pack light. Longtail boats, which are colorful wooden boats used for short trips, are small, usually not covered, and sometimes a little leaky. There’s no room for a large suitcase or even a very large backpack. It is also possible to charter a sailboat or speedboat to island-hop, but the cost is in the thousands of dollars for a multiday trip.

If you’ve come to the region primarily to dive, you’ll actually find it much easier to get around, as there are numerous large dive boats offering live-aboard, multiday dive trips that will take you to some of the best diving sites in the country. Trips generally depart from Phuket, Krabi, and Khao Lak.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

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Southern Gulf of Thailand Travel Planning https://moon.com/2016/07/southern-gulf-thailand-travel-planning/ https://moon.com/2016/07/southern-gulf-thailand-travel-planning/#respond Fri, 01 Jul 2016 14:50:47 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=40995 Visit the southern Gulf of Thailand for idyllic islands, off-the-beaten-path beaches on the mainland, and some charming small historical cities where you can learn about the culture and history of the region.

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Visit the southern Gulf of Thailand for idyllic islands, off-the-beaten-path beaches on the mainland, and some charming small historical cities where you can learn about the culture and history of the region.

White-sand beaches, coconut trees, and green rolling hills make the lower southern Gulf a top choice if you’re looking for a beach vacation in Thailand. The region has plenty to offer that you won’t find on the other side of the Kra Isthmus. The landscapes are not as dramatic as the karst cliffs that pepper Phuket, Krabi, and Trang, but thanks to an abundance of coconut trees and a softer, more rolling topography, the islands are greener and lusher. The resorts can be as posh as those on the Andaman coast, and at the cheaper end, the selection is better. The rainy season is much shorter, lasting from only mid-October to mid-December.

Inside Wat Phra Mahathat Woromaha Vihan in Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Inside Wat Phra Mahathat Woromaha Vihan in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Photo © Kent Wang, CC-BY-SA.

Though the mainland beaches north of Nakhon Si Thammarat aren’t as slick and foreigner-friendly as the more popular beach spots, the natural landscape is mostly unmarred by development, and the area still retains the typically Thai culture that’s often harder to see in more popular destinations. The city of Nakhon Si Thammarat doesn’t have enough attractions to draw huge crowds of foreign tourists, but it has plenty of temples to visit, and plenty of authentic Thai food to try. Visit Khanom and Sichon for their beaches, which still attract more locals than foreign visitors. Khao Sok National Park, closer to the Andaman Coast, has some beautiful waterfalls and plenty of opportunities to canoe.

South of Nakhon Si Thammarat, the coast along the Gulf of Thailand changes significantly. You’ll still find stretches of beach and plenty of friendly people, but once you enter Songkhla Province, Islam begins to be more apparent. Hat Yai, the area’s economic hub, attracts hordes of visitors, but mostly people from Malaysia, who come for shopping and to take advantage of Thailand’s more permissive culture. This makes it a very interesting place to people-watch if you happen to be passing through, although it’s probably not going to be a primary destination for most.

Cabins on the water at Khao Sok National Park.

Khao Sok National Park. Photo © Patty Ho, Flicker/CC-BY.

History

Although these days the mainland cities in this part of the country look more like semi-industrialized towns and transport hubs for travelers moving onto the beaches and islands, Surat Thani was once the seat of the Srivijaya Empire in Thailand. Though little is known about the lost empire, historians speculate that it existed from somewhere between the 3rd and 5th centuries to the 13th century. The center of the Srivijaya Empire’s power was on the island of Sumatra, in present-day Indonesia, but the empire spread throughout the Indonesian archipelago and northward, encompassing the Malay Peninsula up to present-day Surat Thani. Although the kingdom was Hindu, Buddhist, and then Muslim, remains from the Surat Thani area are Mahayana Buddhist, and there are temple ruins in the city of Chaiya, outside of Surat Thani, as well as the Chaiya National Museum.

In some sense, Thailand became its own kingdom in the 13th century when the region became ruled by Thai people instead of outsiders, but the country as it is known today did not exist until the 20th century. Southeast Asia had for centuries been under the influence of innumerable empires bearing little relation to current national borders, and it was the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 that put the last pieces of the puzzle (at least in the south) together for the Kingdom of Siam. It was then that Siam got the provinces of Satun, Songkhla, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala in exchange for giving up claims to provinces farther south that are now part of Malaysia. While the country as a whole identifies with the Kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, the south has always had a somewhat different history.

Since the Srivijaya period, Nakhon Si Thammarat emerged as its own kingdom of sorts, existing independently but paying tribute to the Sukhothai and then Ayutthaya Kingdoms. By the 18th century, the region was ruled by the Kingdom of Siam, although at least with respect to Songkhla, that rule was challenged until the 1909 treaty.

Nakhon Si Thammarat has become an important city for Buddhists, and you’ll see plenty of wats if you visit. Just south, in Songkhla, the predominant religion is Islam.

Planning Your Time

If you’re planning on a visit to the cities of Nakhon Si Thammarat or Songkhla, you can easily see most of the important sights in a day or two, leaving plenty of extra time to relax on one of the beaches up north. With direct flights on Nok Air to Nakhon Si Thammarat, it’s surprisingly easy to get to the city or nearby Songkhla without spending hours transferring from one place to another.

Travel Safety

Although Islam and Buddhism have coexisted in this part of the country for centuries with few problems, sectarian violence currently gripping Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat has recently spilled over into parts of Songkhla. Hat Yai, the province’s capital, has had multiple bomb attacks in the past decade that have targeted hotels, pubs, and shopping centers. The violence so far has been limited to Hat Yai and has been very sporadic, but it’s something that cannot be ignored if you’re traveling to this part of the country. There have been no incidents, however, in any of the popular tourist spots and no indication that there is a threat of violence there.

Travel map of the Southern Gulf of Thailand

Southern Gulf of Thailand


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

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Where to Go in Phuket & Ko Samui https://moon.com/2016/06/where-to-go-phuket-ko-samui/ https://moon.com/2016/06/where-to-go-phuket-ko-samui/#respond Fri, 24 Jun 2016 14:08:51 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=40970 Phuket and Ko Samui are Thailand’s most popular resort islands. Here's where to go for endless beaches, luxury resorts, prime diving, cultural immersion, and outdoor adventure.

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Phuket and Ko Samui are Thailand’s most popular resort islands, and for good reason. The azure water and soft sand are the stuff of legends. Palm trees, lush green rainforests, paddy fields, and mountain ranges are never far away.

You’ll also find reasonably priced accommodations, a good variety of places to eat, drink, and shop, and plenty of outdoor activities that take advantage of the stunning natural landscape. Here you can sleep in a thatched roof bungalow, hike through the lush forests of a national park, or snorkel in the clear blue waters of the Andaman Sea, all in the same day.

Snorkeling at Ko Phi Phi along the Andaman Coast.

Snorkeling at Ko Phi Phi along the Andaman Coast. Photo © olos/123rf.

Though Thai is a tough language to master on vacation, and the script looks completely undecipherable to most Westerners, you will find at least a little English spoken in almost every corner of Phuket and Ko Samui (as well as Russian and Chinese). With so many tourists visiting, you’ll never be far from someone who can help you find what you need or where you’re going.

More than anything else, you’ll find paradise. With a little bit of effort, you can discover that tranquil patch of sand under a coconut tree that you’ve been dreaming about.

Where to Go

Phuket

Phuket is Thailand’s number one beach destination, and for good reason. The country’s largest island has almost a dozen beautiful beaches covered with soft sand and backed by swaying palm trees. The Andaman Sea, with its warm, turquoise waters, is beautiful and inviting. But if you look past the beaches for a moment it becomes clear why Phuket is so popular. There are hundreds of restaurants to eat at, over a thousand hotels, resorts, and guesthouses to choose from, and plenty of shops to peruse.

The Andaman Coast

The peninsula’s west coast is undoubtedly the most beautiful region in the country, with postcard-perfect islands and lush rainforests and mountain ranges. The warm, clear waters offer excellent opportunities to snorkel and scuba dive, with stunning limestone rock formations, waterfalls, and caves to explore. Travel north or south from Phuket and you’ll find some of the best beaches in the world. The rest of the region is still supported by agriculture and a thriving fishing industry, and it remains relatively undeveloped.

Ko Samui and the Samui Archipelago

Ko Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan, and Ko Tao, once a group of barely inhabited islands known better for coconut trees than anything else, now provide visitors with everything from luxury resorts to thatched beach bungalows. But despite their conveniences, even Samui still feels like a laid-back beach destination. If you want a relaxing beach vacation where you can enjoy good food and great accommodations, head to Samui. Party animals will enjoy Ko Pha-Ngan’s famous full-moon raves. And if you’re a diver, or aspire to be one, head to Ko Tao for some of the best diving in the region.

Southern Gulf of Thailand

Coconut groves, rubber plantations, and forested mountains characterize Thailand’s lower southern gulf. Once a bustling entrepôt, this region is still a significant commercial center for southern Thailand. The largest province, Nakhon Si Thammarat, offers a tutorial of the region’s cultural history. The remains of the ancient walled city of Ligor, Buddhist temples, Hindu shrines, and Muslim mosques are all easily accessible here.

Travel map of the Phuket and Ko Samui region of Thailand

Travel map of the Phuket and Ko Samui region of Thailand


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

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Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan Travel Planning https://moon.com/2016/05/ko-samui-ko-pha-ngan-travel-planning/ https://moon.com/2016/05/ko-samui-ko-pha-ngan-travel-planning/#comments Sun, 15 May 2016 15:47:13 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=40992 Tips and advice on planning your time in Ko Samui and nearby Ko Pha-Ngan; Ko Samui is a popular Thailand vacation spot, an excellent budget destination with a growing five-star scene, while Ko Pha-Ngan remains a backpacker haven.

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Once just a quiet island happily going about its business of coconut farming, Ko Samui is now one of the most popular vacation spots in Thailand. Filled with palm trees and rimmed by white-sand beaches, the island has all the ingredients necessary for a gorgeous holiday retreat. If you’re arriving by plane to Ko Samui, the moment you step off the airplane and onto the tarmac you’ll understand what the island is all about. There’s no steel or glass at the international airport. Instead, it’s a group of thatch-roofed huts where you check in and pick up your luggage. To get to and from the planes, passengers are taken by open-air buses akin to large golf carts. If you’re arriving by ferry from the mainland, you’ll get to enjoy the spectacular view of the surrounding islands during the 90-minute ride.

If you plan on seeing more than one of the islands in the archipelago, give yourself at least a week, especially if you want to get some diving in.The island is not all huts and coconut trees, however. Since its debut as a budget destination, Samui has grown up. Although there are still beach bungalows to be found, there is also a large selection of five-star resorts as well as lots of spas and retreats and a dining scene that gets better every year. Thanks to a ring road that circles the entire island, there’s plenty of built-up infrastructure, and you’ll have easy access to things such as medical care and rental cars. Every beach has at least one Internet café, and many hotels and cafés in more built-up beach areas have Wi-Fi. The development hasn’t come without a price. Although the beaches are still beautiful, parts of the island can seem like a messy, incoherently developed mass of cheap concrete buildings and tangled power lines. Covering nearly 260 square kilometers (100 sq mi), Samui is a large island and can sometimes feel like a small city instead of desert paradise.

On the shore of Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand.

On the shore of Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand. Photo © Rafal Cichawa/123rf.

Just north of Samui, Ko Pha-Ngan is still mostly a backpacker haven, with a good selection of inexpensive places to stay and plenty of cheap drinks and all-night partying. The island’s famous full-moon parties, which seem to take place every weekend regardless of the lunar phase, are what has given Ko Pha-Ngan this reputation, although there are more high-end resorts opening up and attracting a different type of independent traveler. The physical landscape of the island, with gentle hills covered in trees and white-sand beaches, is as beautiful as Samui, and perhaps even more so, as it’s less developed. Part of this is certainly due to the fact that there are no flights to the island. If you are visiting Pha-Ngan, you’ll need to take a ferryboat from Surat Thani or Ko Samui, making it a good choice if you have the luxury of time but not money. Ko Tao, the northernmost main island in the archipelago, is still largely a base for divers but shares the same topography as its larger neighbors.

History of Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan

The island of Samui was first officially recorded by the Chinese around 1500 in ancient maps but was probably settled more than 1,000 years ago by mariners from Hainan in southwest China. While the mainland was a part of the Srivijaya Kingdom, Samui and neighboring islands were not a significant part of the kingdom. Until the 1970s, Ko Samui was just a simple island relying on ample coconut trees and fishing for commerce. During World War II, Ko Samui was briefly occupied by the Japanese, but otherwise it stayed below the radar.

Three decades later, the island and neighboring Ko Pha-Ngan arrived on the backpacker trail and slowly grew from quiet tropical refuges to international tourist destinations.

Planning Your Time

Many visitors to the gulf spend all of their time on Ko Samui, and it’s easy to do so with direct flights to the island from Bangkok. There are few cultural and historical sights to visit, as the island has really only developed around the travelers that have come to visit in recent decades, but there are plenty of beach activities to fill your time. If you plan on seeing more than one of the islands in the archipelago, give yourself at least a week, especially if you want to get some diving in. Hopping from Ko Samui to Ko Pha-Ngan to Ko Tao is simple but time-consuming, and there are frequent ferryboats between the islands.

If you’re flying into nearby Surat Thani and taking a ferry to Ko Samui, expect to spend about half a day getting from the airport to the ferry pier and then to the island itself. It’s not as convenient as flying into Ko Samui, but you may save yourself quite a few thousand baht. There are only two airlines—Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways—that fly into Ko Samui from Bangkok. Bangkok Airways, which owns the Samui airport, is known for great service and convenient flight schedules, but not cheap prices. Since Thai Airways started flying to Samui a few years ago, many thought prices would go down. So far, they haven’t, so travelers on a budget usually opt to take one of the low-cost carriers to Surat Thani and transfer from there.

Travel map of Ko Samui, Thailand

Ko Samui

Travel map of Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand

Ko Pha-Ngan


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

The post Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan Travel Planning appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

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8-Day Best of Phuket and Ko Samui Itinerary https://moon.com/2016/04/8-day-best-phuket-ko-samui-itinerary/ https://moon.com/2016/04/8-day-best-phuket-ko-samui-itinerary/#respond Tue, 26 Apr 2016 19:15:13 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=40974 This itinerary will begins in Phuket, where you’ll get a chance to tour waterfalls, snorkel, dive, explore the world-famous beaches, and do some island-hopping, too. After that, you’ll take a flight to Samui, where you’ll visit not only the main island but also neighboring Ko Pha-Ngan.

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Most visitors pick either Phuket or Samui, but each offers something a little different, and there’s no reason you can’t see both on vacation. This itinerary will begin in Phuket, where you’ll get a chance to tour waterfalls, snorkel, dive, explore the world-famous beaches, and do some island-hopping, too. After that, you’ll take a flight to Samui, where you’ll visit not only the main island but also neighboring Ko Pha-Ngan.

Aerial view of Phuket Town. Photo © Sunanta Boonkamonsawat/123rf.

Aerial view of Phuket Town, a bustling area full of heritage buildings. Photo © 
Sunanta Boonkamonsawat/123rf.

Day 1

You’ll arrive in Phuket on the first day, whether you transited through Bangkok or got a direct flight from another Asian city. During high season, Air China, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, Emirates, Korean Air, and Singapore Airlines all fly to Phuket, so if you’re flying from a large U.S. city, you should be able to avoid more than one flight change.

After you arrive in Phuket, grab a taxi to your hotel on one of the island’s many beaches, drop off your stuff, and take a refreshing swim in the Indian Ocean. Back at your hotel, arrange a snorkeling or scuba diving tour (if you’re already scuba certified) of Ko Phi Phi and the surrounding islands for the next day. Then head to Patong Beach for a seafood meal on the water and experience a little nightlife. You could also head to Surin Beach for a quieter evening.

Day 2

Wake up early to make sure you don’t miss your ride to the pier for the tour of Ko Phi Phi and the surrounding islands; most tours start their pickups at 7am. After you’ve arrived at the boat, hang on for some island-hopping. Spend the day snorkeling or diving around some of Phang Nga Bay’s most beautiful islands. Don’t worry about lunch; it’s always included in these day tours. When you get back to your hotel, relax for a while by the water before getting ready for dinner.

Day 3

Spend the day lounging and relaxing on the beach. Arrange a ride into Phuket Town for dinner; stop at Raya Thai if you can get a table.

Day 4

If you’re feeling like you’ve already seen enough, spend another day on the beach. If you’ve had enough beach time, head to Rawai Beach to walk through the small fishing village. You won’t be able to do any swimming or sunbathing there, so don’t worry about packing a towel. During the evening, ditch the flip-flops and bathing suit for something a little more formal and have dinner at one of the fancier restaurants in Kata Beach.

Day 5

In the morning, head for the airport and take a short flight to Ko Samui. The only airline offering direct flights is Bangkok Airways, and there are limited flights per day, so make sure to book ahead. Once you arrive in Samui, take a moment to enjoy the charming little airport before you grab a taxi and head to your hotel. After you check in to your hotel, spend a couple of hours exploring some of the island’s tourist attractions, such as the Big Buddha and Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks, before retiring to the beach for some more relaxation.

Day 6

As you did in Phuket, you’ll spend a day exploring the region on a guided tour. This time, you’ll spend your time in Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, essentially the islands surrounding Ko Samui, on a kayaking tour. Wake up early and catch a ride with your tour group to Nathon pier, where your boat will depart after a quick breakfast. Don’t worry if you’ve never kayaked before, as most good outfitters will offer basic instruction and plenty of help during the tour.

Travel map of Ko Samui, Thailand

Ko Samui

After paddling to some of the park’s most amazing sights, including the emerald lake, Thale Nai, enjoy a basic Thai lunch on the beach before kayaking through and around some of the gorgeous islands (and somewhat scary caves!). You’ll be back at your hotel by around 6pm, just in time to either collapse from exhaustion or take a quick shower and head out to Chaweng Beach for some dinner.

Day 7

Spend your last full day in Samui relaxing by the beach. For dinner, head to Bo Phut Beach, where you can pick from a number of restaurants overlooking the water. If you happen to be there on a Friday night, enjoy the Fisherman’s Village Night Market, full of lots of fun stuff to buy as well as good, cheap food and drink.

Day 8

Take a last dip in the waters of the Gulf of Thailand before packing up and heading to the airport for your return home.


Excerpted from The First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

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Discover Phuket https://moon.com/2016/04/discover-phuket/ https://moon.com/2016/04/discover-phuket/#respond Wed, 20 Apr 2016 16:59:40 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=40986 It’s no wonder millions of people visit Phuket each year. The landscape, with its hilly, green, forested interior and clean, sandy beaches, is awe-inspiring. The vibes of the beaches and their surrounding areas vary from spring break fun to secluded romantic getaway to family-friendly. The accommodations range from unbelievably cheap to unbelievably luxurious. The tourism infrastructure is solid, and anything you want—perhaps a spur-of-the-moment diving trip, a midday massage on the beach, or a bespoke suit made in 24 hours—is available with no hassle.

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It’s no wonder millions of people visit Phuket each year. If you’re in the market for the perfect beach vacation and don’t mind sharing your space with others, nothing can beat it. The landscape, with its hilly, green, forested interior and clean, sandy beaches, is awe-inspiring. The vibes of the beaches and their surrounding areas vary from spring break fun to secluded romantic getaway to family-friendly. The accommodations range from unbelievably cheap to unbelievably luxurious. The tourism infrastructure is solid, and anything you want—perhaps a spur-of-the-moment diving trip, a midday massage on the beach, or a bespoke suit made in 24 hours—is available with no hassle.

Aerial view of Phuket Town. Photo ©  Sunanta Boonkamonsawat/123rf.

Aerial view of Phuket Town. Photo © 
Sunanta Boonkamonsawat/123rf.

As if that weren’t enough, nearly all of the sweeping, inviting beaches face west, so picture-perfect sunsets are a given. On an island this popular and this built-up, there are no more absolutely deserted places, but the northern and southern parts of the west coast offer some surprisingly quiet, quaint, and relaxed places to pull up a beach chair and chill out.

Thailand’s largest island is about 48 kilometers (30 mi) long and 16 kilometers (10 mi) across. Imagine an elongated star with extra points and you’ll have a rough idea of what Phuket looks like from above. The points are promontories, rock formations jutting out into the ocean and separating the island into numerous individual beaches with curving coasts. The road system on the island is very well maintained, and there is both a coastal road that encircles nearly the whole island and large multilane inland roads. Off the main island, the Andaman Sea is littered with small islands and elegant rock formations jutting out from the sea. Many of the surrounding islands could be destinations in their own right, if not overshadowed by the main island.

Travel map of Phuket, Thailand

Phuket

Phuket and the surrounding areas rebuilt quickly after the 2004 tsunami, but the momentum from the redevelopment seems not to have slowed once all of the damage was repaired. There are new resorts and villas popping up in every corner, new shopping malls, bars and restaurants opening just off the beach and further inland, and more visitors coming every year to stay, eat, drink, and shop in those new places. If you want to experience some of what Phuket became famous for, hurry up and come now: Even the most remote beaches and islands won’t be the same in the next few years.

History

During prehistoric times, Phuket was inhabited by indigenous people sometimes referred to as Negritos, a group of hunter-gatherer pygmies who were, like many indigenous Southeast Asians, displaced and assimilated during waves of successive migration. Although no clear records exist, the last of the pygmy tribes was probably wiped out in the 19th century.

Although Phuket, then called Jang Si Lang or Junk Ceylon, shows up in some of Ptolemy’s maps and writings, the island’s history is largely unknown until about 800 years ago. Phuket’s main natural resource, tin, was mined by prehistoric inhabitants, but what is now known as Phuket didn’t come to the attention of the Thai people until the 13th century, when they arrived for trading and tin mining.

Word spread of the abundant natural resources, which included not only tin but also pearls, and by the 15th-16th centuries Thalang, as the island was then known, became a popular trading center, attracting the Dutch, Portuguese, and French. While Thailand has never technically been colonized, the Dutch set up trading posts in the region in the 16th century, and parts of the island were governed by tin traders under a concession. Phuket was even under the administration of the French between 1681 and 1685.

At the end of the Ayutthaya period, after the Burmese had sacked the capital city and were pushed back by General Taksin, they set their sights on Phuket and the surrounding region, invading the island and trying to take it over in 1785. The island’s governor was killed by the intruders, but Phuket did not fall, according to the story told by nearly every islander. The governor’s widow and her sister, both disguised as men, led a force against the siege and succeeded in repelling the Burmese after weeks of fighting. In recognition of their heroism, the two women were granted noble titles by King Rama I, and today there is a statue dedicated to them in the middle of the island.

After that dramatic high point in Phuket’s history, the island continued to be used primarily as a tin-mining area, and later for rubber plantations, attracting thousands of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, many of whom remained and, with the Muslim fisherfolk who immigrated from what is now Malaysia, constitute much of the modern indigenous population.

Rubber tree plantation in Phuket. Photo ©  Winan Phanrit/123rf.

Rubber tree plantation in Phuket. Photo ©
Winan Phanrit/123rf.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that intrepid foreign travelers “discovered” Phuket’s beauty and began to visit the island to enjoy the mountainous rainforests and pristine beaches. Starting with some small bungalow developments on Patong Beach, the island has boomed into a world-class tourist destination over the past three decades. Urban Thais in their 50s and 60s will often laugh and reminisce about what the Andaman coast used to be like before travelers and developers realized it was a natural tourist destination, when they’d head down on motorcycles to the largely untouched island for some adventure. Fast-forward 30 years, and the dirt roads and simple local folks have since been replaced by an exceptionally sophisticated infrastructure with easily navigable roads, hospitals, shopping malls, and an international airport.

Nowadays Phuket’s “local” population is not just the Chinese immigrants and Muslim fisherfolk but thousands of Thais who’ve moved here to open hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-related businesses. The mining industry is virtually gone, but rubber tapping remains one of the island’s income generators. The island’s identity is tourism, attracting millions of visitors each year and accounting for the majority of the island’s revenues.

Planning Your Time

Phuket is filled with opportunities to relax on beautiful beaches, explore the stunning physical landscape, enjoy local foods, and pamper yourself in a bit of luxury. You can spend three weeks island-hopping, diving, hiking, and playing golf, or spend just a few days lying on the beach without even touring the neighboring areas, and you’ll still have something of value from your trip.

Kata Noi Beach on the Phuket coast. Photo © Simone Bortignon/123rf.

Kata Noi Beach on the Phuket coast. Photo © Simone Bortignon/123rf.

While it may be tempting to idle your days away in the immediate vicinity of your hotel, make sure to set aside at least one day to explore the surrounding islands by boat. The small islands you’ll pass on the way create scenery that’s enchanting and like nothing in North America. Off the smaller islands is some of the best scuba and snorkeling in the world.

If you’ve never dived before, Phuket is the place to start. There are numerous dive schools that offer PADI certification, and the courses are inexpensive and a lot of fun. Even if you’re not interested in diving, set aside a couple of hours to snorkel above some of the shallow coral reefs.

Find Your Way Around

Patong functions as the center of the most popular and developed part of Phuket, though it’s not in the middle of the island, but farther south. The northernmost part of the island, once almost totally ignored, is slowly becoming developed.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.

The post Discover Phuket appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

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